In this nation we are spoilt for choice when it comes to gorgeous gardens to visit. Here, GTW makes just a few recommendations arranged according to some of the things your group might be looking for in a garden visit, whether that is tours, specific interest themes or special events.
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Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens are a unique restoration project of a 17th/18th century formal garden. The gardens combine a sense of garden history with a valuable education resource, and are a peaceful oasis in an urban setting.
For many years, these gardens were neglected, lost beneath a tangled mass of vegetation. Work began in 1985, funded by a charitable trust, and has been very successful in restoring the gardens to the period 1640 – 1760, complete with a large collection of unusual period plants. A 19th-century holly maze takes pride of place, as well as a holly walk – a broad path lined with variegated hollies. At its end, the elegant summerhouse looks across to an early orangery known as the Green House. A formal vegetable garden, laid out to the design of Batty Langley’s New Principles of Gardening (1728), sits next to the summerhouse, full of historic and unusual types of vegetables and herbs, many of them rare. Fruit trees, including apples, pears, apricots, figs and cherries have been formally trained as they would have been at the time. The upper and lower wildernesses have grown to maturity, with period underplanting, and the North Garden has recently been restored to the design shown in Henry Beighton’s Prospect of 1726, its parterre outlined with yew, mown grass and gravel.
Guided tours are usually available daily and there is a gift shop, coffee shop and plants for sale.
T: 0121 7494100
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Tatton Park’s estate covers 1,000 acres of parkland and includes an 18th century mansion, working historic farm, Tudor hall and award-winning gardens. The fifty acres of gardens have evolved over the last 200 years as each successive generation of the Egerton family added their particular horticultural designs to them, converting more of the parkland into garden each time.
In 1791, Humphry Repton’s designs for Tatton in the ‘Red Book’ planned to surround the mansion with flower gardens. Then in the early 1800s, the architect Lewis William Wyatt designed an orangery and the formal pleasure grounds of Charlotte’s Garden. Joseph Paxton, of Crystal Palace fame, designed the fernery to showcase the plant hunters’ specimens from the new world.
The impressive Japanese garden dates from 1911 and features a tea house and Shinto shrine. Other areas include the topiary, rose garden and the formal Italian garden which has views over the parkland towards the hills of east Cheshire. The walled kitchen garden provided food for the Egerton family and the estate workers in previous eras, and still produces historical varieties of fruit and vegetables today which are used in the menus in the restaurant and tearoom.
There is colour and interest in the flowers and foliage of the gardens year-round and there are always craftsman gardeners around to chat to in order to find out more. Over 140,000 visitors enjoy the gardens annually and many return regularly to view the seasonal highlights, such as the azaleas in April, roses in the summer and autumn colours in the Japanese garden.
National Trust and RHS members enter the gardens for free and group concessions are available. Garden tours cost £85 per group of 25 people; larger groups are split and will require additional guides accordingly.
T: 01625 374416
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Myddelton House Gardens in Enfield tell the compelling and motivating story of Edward Augustus Bowles, one of Britain’s most famous self-taught gardeners and an artist and expert botanist who lived there from 1865 to 1954. Groups will find eight acres of gardens to explore, showcasing how Bowles dedicated much of his life to transforming them. Unusual and exotic plants abound in the Lunatic Asylum, restored Kitchen Garden and colourful Alpine Meadow. In February, visitors can witness the extensive snowdrop collection come to life. The gardens are also home to a beautiful lake, Victorian conservatory and various relics including the Enfield Market Cross dating back to 1826, which Bowles rescued and transferred to his garden. The experience can be enhanced with a guided tour with the head or senior gardener to learn more about these enchanting gardens. Tours each have their theme, with topics including history, restoration, plants, snowdrops or a kitchen garden tour.
The visitor centre is home to the Bowles Museum, café and a shop. The museum explains more about the life of E A Bowles and the gardens he created, while the shop is full of souvenirs, books, heritage seeds, memorabilia and a selection of plants plus produce from the kitchen garden. Coach parking is available on site – prebooking is required.
T: 08456 770600
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As well as the amazing biomes and spectacular outside gardens, the Eden Project in Cornwall will be running a programme of additional events throughout 2014, many of which complement the learning and educational opportunities available year-round at the attraction. In March, the spotlight will be on Cornwall and its local dishes and favourite recipes, traditional Cornish tales and the best Cornish choirs. These activities will take place against a backdrop of daffodils and other classic spring blooms such as crocuses and grape hyacinths. As Easter approaches, Eden is going to focus on chocolate with a festival taking place from 5th – 27th April. Visitors can find the bright yellow cocoa pods that contain the beans that are made into chocolate growing in the Rainforest Biome. Workshops and talks will explain to visitors about the process of creating chocolate from the raw ingredients and the history of this beloved food. Later in the year, as summer draws to a close, Eden will see the return of its annual Harvest Festival; from 6th September to 4th October, Eden will celebrate food, wine, beer and cider, with workshops, samplings, talks and tastings. Visitors can meet growers and explore the stories behind the produce, finding out about the communities that grow them.
All events are included in the entry fee, with admission discounts of over 40% for pre-booked groups and introductory talks for as little as £1 per person. Guided tours are also available at an additional cost and as talks and tours are tailored to the season, there is always something new for groups to discover among the more than one million plants that Eden looks after.
T: 01726 811903
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Situated in the heart of London, Chelsea Physic Garden has a unique living collection of around 5,000 edible, useful, medicinal and historical plants. This peaceful green oasis in the centre of the capital includes a number of rare and endangered species, which can flourish in the garden’s warm microclimate. Many of the 100 types of tree are rarely found in Britain. The Chelsea Physic Garden has the largest outdoor fruiting olive tree in Britain and the world’s most northerly outdoor grapefruit tree. Other species grown include pomegranates, gingkos, mulberries and eucalyptus. The glasshouses hold a collection of tropical and sub-tropical species, complemented by a Victorian cool fernery. The ‘Garden of Edible & Useful Plants’, which opened in 2012, includes various fascinating and fragrant display beds.
New for 2014 is the ‘Garden of Medicinal Plants.’ Since the Society of Apothecaries first grew medicinal plants at the garden 340 years ago, the site has evolved numerous times, but has always demonstrated vital medicinal plants. Though these collections are one of the best in Europe, they have been hampered by a shortage of growing space, heavy shade, limited viewing areas for visitors and scant interpretation. This winter, after many months of planning and designing, a new ¾ acre garden is being built to display an extended collection of medicinal plants. This new quadrant will display historic medicine plants from every region of the world, along with plants used or synthesised for modern medicine, herbal remedies and potential future medicinal plants. Arranged into rooms divided by yew hedges, hazel hurdles and dry-stone walls, the plant collections give visitors the opportunity to take a chronological tour through the history of hundreds of plant-based medicines.
Chelsea Physic Garden reopens to the public for the summer season in April. Groups should book in advance and can enjoy expert guided tours of the garden. The Tangerine Dream Café serves a range of snacks and meals, including afternoon tea.
T: 020 7352 5646
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Borde Hill Garden in West Sussex runs a full programme of events every year and 2014 will be no different; they are introducing some brand new events as well as developing their well-loved regular features. Event days offer added value to visitors and groups, encouraging a diverse audience to appreciate and enjoy the garden, often with a different focus and angle. For a majority of these days there is no additional charge, just the standard entry prices apply. Groups including members of any age will enjoy these days out.
Highlights of the 2014 programme include ‘Marvellous Magnolia’ tours in March and April with head gardener Andy Stevens, a sculpture exhibition running from May until September, British Eventing Horse Trials on the 25th and 26th of May, a ‘Dog Fun Day’ on 15th June, the Borde Hill Plant Finders Fair on three days in late June, music every Sunday in August, outdoor theatre on the 8th and 9th of August, outdoor cinema on three nights in September and ‘Haunted Halloween Fun’ at the end of October. Garden highlights include the rhododendrons and azaleas in April and May, bluebells in May and roses and herbaceous plants from June to September.
Borde Hill Garden is an English Heritage grade II listed garden, set within 200 acres of listed parkland. The garden was created in 1892 and boasts a botanically rich and nationally important collection of trees and shrubs. The garden is a registered charity and first opened its gates to the public in 1965. The formal garden is designed as a series of intimate ‘garden rooms’, with woodlands, lakes and the picturesque parkland beyond. Picnics are allowed anywhere within the garden and BBQs and ballgames are permitted in the parkland.
The onsite Jeremy’s Restaurant won The Good Food Guide Regional Readers’ Restaurant of the Year 2013 award and offers a contemporary dining experience in a classical setting. The adjoining Café Elvira offers a wide range of good quality home-cooked meals and cakes for more relaxed refreshments. There is also a gift shop, plants for sale and the Green Tree Art Gallery to visit.
T: 01444 450326
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Southport Flower Show is a great example of the type of event that garden-loving groups can visit outside of gardens themselves. With the pending world cup in Brazil, this year organisers have opted for a Brazilian themed show with entertainment, events and garden designs all taking their inspiration from Brazilian styles and culture. Southport Flower Show runs from the 14th – 17th August, and will attract around 70,000 visitors over the four days. Gardening experts and TV stars will take part in a show which includes live music and entertainment as well as more than 350 independent stalls and shops – and, of course, show gardens displaying over a million blooms.
Group discounts are being offered this year, with a 10% discount on the advance ticket prices for groups of ten to 48 people and a 15% discount for groups of 49 and above. Groups of ten plus will also receive a complimentary ticket and free coach parking.
T: 01704 547147
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The Alnwick Garden is one of the world’s most extraordinary contemporary gardens, described by the Duchess of Northumberland as ‘an inspiring landscape with beautiful gardens and unique features all brought to life with water’. Designed by Wirtz International, the garden is a remarkable combination of spaces, themes, quirkiness and play. As well as being home to one of the world’s largest treehouses, The Alnwick Garden boasts the beauty of the Ornamental Garden, the excitement of the Grand Cascade, the mysteries of the Bamboo Labyrinth, the spell-binding water sculptures of the Serpent Garden and the intrigue of the Poison Garden. The Alnwick Garden prides itself on offering one of the best group travel experiences in the North East. Groups can relax and enjoy the best possible experience of the gardens, safe in the knowledge that everything is taken care of thanks to a wide range of flexible packages. Whether groups are looking for a refreshment break, or an all-day visit including a guided tour and behind-the-scenes access, the group bookings department can offer bespoke packages to meet every need. The garden aims to be accessible for all, with a range of mobility options available for hire, allowing everyone to enjoy its splendour.
T: 01665 511350